I found out about Tim Russert’s death today through Facebook. One of my friends had updated his status to say he was “shocked by Tim Russert’s death.” I glanced over at my Google Talk contacts and noticed that two other friends had updated their status to reflect Russert’s death.
It’s a little ironic that I found out about the death of a veteran television newsman through a social network. But it’s not unusual.
Increasingly, I’m finding out about things through social networks. I was alerted to last year’s 35W bridge collapse in Minnesota by a friend who IMed me.
Shortly after I updated my own Facebook status to indicate that I’d found about Russert through Facebook, another friend emailed to say that’s how he heard about it, too. It’s not that my friends are all geeks. The two friends who had updated their Google status are well outside the Silicon Valley echo chamber and aren’t highly political.
What does this mean?
- I spend too much time on Facebook. Sure, yes. But Facebook is a destination site whereas news sites aren’t. I read a lot more news than I ever have and across a much wider range of sources. I usually find stories to read based on email and IM from friends and colleagues, as well as whatever catches my eye on feed readers. Checking out CNN.com, nytimes.com, etc. isn’t on my daily to-do list. News has a way of finding me.
- Everyone can have an immediate worldwide megaphone. While my status updates and IMs don’t have anywhere near the reach of CNN or The Washington Post, I can easily reach hundreds of people, who can each reach hundreds of people. News spreads faster than ever because we’re more connected than ever. The ease of such communication makes it much more prevalent; I wouldn’t have picked up the phone to tell some the news.
- Facebook, Twitter, blogs and other user-generated sites are reflections of our collective conscience. Twitter search engine Summize shows on its home page that “Tim Russert” and “Russert” are the trending terms for today. There are more than 100 pages of tweets with “Tim Russert” in them. (Summize cuts off at 100 pages.) We’re getting unprecedented, unedited and immediate reaction to news in a way that letters to the editor and man-on-the-street interviews just can’t touch.
- Major brands still matter. After seeing the Facebook status update, I went straight to CNN.com. I didn’t even think to go to Google to search for “tim russert”, I knew where to go and got what I was expecting: CNN offered a live feed discussing Russert’s death and a video of Tom Brokaw’s announcement.